The Trump Presidency Turns Deadly

Trump is precisely the wrong person to lead US at such a moment. Neither the brightest nor the most focused of presidents he’s clearly out of his depth

Trump is precisely the wrong person to lead US at such a moment. Neither the brightest nor the most focused of presidents he’s clearly out of his depth

OPINION, WASHINGTON, DC – For the first three years of his administration, US President Donald Trump focused on consolidating power. And yet, as the United States approached its greatest domestic peril in a century, he refused to use that power. Instead, as a deadly coronavirus was poised to invade the country, the president opted for denial and delay.

Trump is precisely the wrong person to lead the US at such a moment. Neither the brightest nor the most focused of presidents, he’s clearly out of his depth.

But toward the end of March, Trump’s science advisers presented him with evidence from a voluntary 15-day experiment indicating that where social distancing measures were taken seriously, the disease spread less rapidly than in places where such restrictions were not observed.

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At the time, the number of COVID-19 infections was over 100,000 and deaths exceeded 1,000. Science advisers’ models indicated that if people behaved perfectly, 100,000-240,000 US residents would die, and Trump’s political advisers told him that polls showed the public wanted to extend social distancing. For once, he took the sensible approach, extending the federal government’s recommendation of social distancing for another 30 days, until the end of April.

At long last, Trump, who just days earlier proclaimed that he would lift all restrictions and “reopen” the US economy by Easter (April 12) – which he couldn’t do because the business shutdowns had been ordered by state governors – seemed to be taking the pandemic seriously. Earlier, he had also dismissed the Democrats’ criticism of his handling of the crisis as “their new hoax.” He took over the daily news briefings when he noticed that Vice President Mike Pence, whom he had put in charge of the emergency task force, was winning praise for conducting the sessions. And then he bragged about the TV ratings. But his behavior remained uneven, and he continued his harsh attacks on reporters who pressed him on his slow response.

In denying responsibility for the appalling state of unreadiness the country was in, Trump sometimes claimed, falsely, that “nobody knew” there would be a pandemic or epidemic of this proportion (at another point he claimed that he had known all along a pandemic was coming). As usual, he blamed his predecessor, Barack Obama. In fact, as early as January, intelligence agencies had warned the Trump administration of the imminent approach of the coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks to the press as White House Senior Advisor Kellyanne Conway looks on before boarding Air Force One on March 28, 2020, at Joint Base Andrews, Maryland. Photo by Jim Watson-Pool/Getty Images

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But despite persistent efforts over this period, administration officials were unable to get the president to focus on the looming crisis. To the public as well, he dismissed the coronavirus and the resulting disease, COVID-19, as less deadly than the seasonal flu. When he had reason to know better, on February 24, he assured the public that the coronavirus rampage “is very much under control in the USA.” Trump said on March 31 that he had been upbeat previously because he “wanted to give people hope,” but according to press reports he was just as dismissive of the problem privately as he was in public.

Trump is precisely the wrong person to lead the US at such a moment. Neither the brightest nor the most focused of presidents, he’s clearly out of his depth. His resistance to reality left doctors and nurses without sufficient personal protective equipment, and as a result, some have died. Moreover, the stunning lack of test kits left policymakers flying blind about where and how many infections were occurring. Trump’s bottomless need for praise led him to make preposterous claims, such as that the number of tests being performed in the US was “very much on par” with that of other countries.

This denial of reality affected the administration’s working relationships with state governors. Donald Trump listened too much and for too long to his economic advisers, who for weeks convinced him to put business interests ahead of the public’s health. And he refused to invoke the Korean War-era Defense Production Act, which allows a president to order a business to meet a national emergency, before finally relenting on March 27 and ordering General Motors to begin manufacturing desperately needed ventilators.

There were also signs of political favoritism, with certain governors – such as Trump’s fellow Republican, Ron DeSantis of Florida – receiving more federal assistance than Democratic governors, with whom Trump picked fights. The US federal system has been both an obstacle and a salvation in dealing with the coronavirus: it has led to policy confusion and has also been a smokescreen for Trump’s incompetence.

Donald Trump still refuses to nationalize the crisis, leaving the states to take different approaches and bid against one another for emergency equipment. The key to his approach may well lie in something he said when asked at a mid-March press conference if he took responsibility for the shortage of face masks. “No,” he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” In other words, let the governors take responsibility for any failures.

Such blame-shifting has become the norm for Trump and Republican leaders, Pence, for example, blamed China, as well as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. By late March, Republicans had begun arguing that the Democrats’ January impeachment of Trump had distracted him from the pandemic threat. But the timing doesn’t work: the impeachment episode was over by early February. Bill Clinton was legislatively active while he was being impeached.

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We may never know what Donald Trump actually thinks about the pandemic. What we do know is that COVID-19 is taking an ever-increasing toll. By April 2, the death count in the US had climbed to more than 5,000, and the number of infections had risen to nearly 217,000. Worldwide, nearly one million people have been infected by the virus, about which much remains a mystery – including how long it will torment us.

On the economic front, US unemployment claims increased by a stunning 6.6 million in the week ending April 1 (a figure that includes only those who filed for benefits, which is increasingly difficult to do, because labor offices have been overwhelmed). A deep and long recession is all but certain.

Whenever the crisis has passed, there will be numerous studies of what happened and why. The hardest question to face, and one that will be long debated, is how many people died needlessly as a result of Donald Trump’s leadership.

The article by Elizabeth Drew, a Washington-based journalist and the author, most recently, of Washington Journal: Reporting Watergate and Richard Nixon’s Downfall., was first published at www.project-syndicate.org. Read the original here.

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Migrants Tell Their Stories: Returning to Nicaragua Amid Covid-19

(TODAY NICARAGUA) Reaching the United States from Managua took her six hours in an airplane. One year later, when a strange new virus put the world in check, she decided to return to Nicaragua to be with her family.  That trip took her 32 days, travelling over 3,290 miles of highway plus eleven days stranded at the border.

This was the journey undertaken by Nicaraguan athlete Sayra Laguna. The story of her return to Nicaragua isn’t unique. Since COVID-19 began spreading, nearly all of the countries of the world opted to keep their residents at home, and to close their borders. At the same time, hundreds of citizens caught outside their own country weighed the prospect of returning to their families. Some because they lost their jobs, and others for fear of being far from those they love in this time of calamity.

In July alone, some 1,300 Nicaraguans arrived back in the country from Panama, Guatemala, Spain and Barbados. Some returned in caravans and others on humanitarian flights, according to the reports from the Interior Ministry and the media.

In order to return, the migrants had to overcome fears of being infected with the virus during the trip, or of being assaulted by gangs, especially in the Northern Triangle of Central America. In addition, they had to put up with great adversity – suffering sun, rain and rejection – for a number of days on the border, in the face of the Nicaraguan authorities’ refusal to let them enter the country unless they could show a negative test for COVID-19.  This measure was decreed when many had already begun the journey back home.

The latest migrants to arrive, a group of 148 Nicaraguans, finally entered on August 3rd. They had resisted infrahuman conditions for nearly two weeks at the Penas Blancas post, on the border with Costa Rica.  The group were eventually able to demonstrate their disease-free status and finally return home, thanks to COVID-19 tests donated and carried out by an NGO.  Daniel Ortega’s government never indicated how they could get tested, since the Nicaraguan government has all the tests centralized in Managua, and don’t ever disclose the number realized nor the results.

“It was torture being there”

At approximately four pm on Friday, July 24, Lucia [not her real name] arrived at the Penas Blancas border post, together with her husband and son. They were carrying only a few suitcases, since they had sent all their belongings on to Nicaragua weeks before.  They had initially planned to leave once they received the results of the COVID-19 tests they had taken in San Jose, Costa Rica, but everything changed when they were evicted from the place they were living.  On that Friday, they grabbed their bags and left, thinking that the digital results would be enough to be allowed in. However, when they reached the border, the immigration authorities told them they couldn’t continue, because they needed to show a hard copy of their results. That’s when their torturous ordeal began.

“At that moment, my world crumbled around me. I didn’t want to stay at the border, because I’m a diabetic and I was fearful of getting infected with the virus. I was worried about my fourteen-year-old son; I didn’t know if he would to be able to stand it,” Lucia told us. Now in Nicaragua, she asked to use an assumed name to avoid reprisals.

Despite their fears, the family decided to wait at the border, together with some 500 other migrants. The group was confined to the sides of the highway, and there they awaited some indication of a humane impulse on the part of the Nicaraguan authorities. That never occurred. Instead, for the next eleven days, “Lucia” and her family were the recipients of insults, rejection and threats.

“We were even afraid to speak to the media. We were threatened by those in the riot squad. I cried every night. A lot of people would flee after midnight, and we’d hear shots, we’d hear dogs barking, people yelling. It was torture,” she recalls.

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